Monday, 24 May 2010

Jerusalem Quartet - Mozart and Janáček, 23 May 2010

Wigmore Hall

Mozart – String Quartet no.15 in D minor, KV 421
Janáček – String Quartet no.2, ‘Intimate Letters’

Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler (violins)
Amihai Grosz (viola)
Kyril Zlotnikov (violoncello)

Following the previous night’s Mozart and Janáček from the Jerusalem Quartet, there came a Sunday morning bonus, performed at just as distinguished a level. The second of Mozart’s ‘Haydn’ quartets, that in D minor, opened in achingly beautiful fashion, relishing the composer’s chromaticism, whilst imparting lilting grace to the first movement’s second subject. Mozart’s reminiscences of Gluckian noble simplicity – for instance the Don Juan ballet music, also in D minor – were married to a veiled menace entirely the younger composer’s own. The development section was properly intense, thematically oriented, whilst the recapitulation bore its tragic burden stoically. Quiet intensity characterised the slow movement, which once again succeeded in conveying an underlying, if illusory, sense of simplicity; art concealed art. A passionate cello-led episode led one to wonder at the richness of Kyril Zlotnikov’s tone: fine playing indeed. The vehemence – Mozart’s D minor daemon again – of the minuet was never astringent; quality of tone must never be sacrificed here. But that would have been as naught, had it not been for the players’ strong underlying rhythmic pulse. The trio caught perfectly the ambience of a Mozartian outdoor serenade – and serenaded to we were too, by Alexander Pavlovsky’s sweet-toned first violin. Backed by his pizzicato band, he would then be joined in an unerringly well-judged duet by Amihai Grosz’s rich-toned viola. (No wonder that the players would encore this trio at the end of the concert.) The minuet’s reprise would sound still more heartfelt. Pathos of tonality and siciliano rhythm marked the opening statement of the finale’s theme. Intensity of feeling if anything increased during the variations, tragedy heightened by voiced delight in Mozart’s developmental ingenuity and an unfailing appreciation of its dramatic implications. Grosz’s viola solo truly provided something to savour in the third variation, whilst the grace of the turn to the major mode in its successor proved both balm and illusion enough, rendering the return to D minor all the more poignant.

As with the previous night’s performance, the opening bars of the Janáček quartet, in this case his second, Intimate Letters, brought an instantly convincing identification with the composer’s sound world – and his harmonic and rhythmic twists and turns. The very difficult trick to bring off is to convey an overriding formal continuity to this music, without underselling the dramatic thrust of its discontinuities. Add to resounding success in that respect an extraordinarily wide expressive range, from red-blooded passion to harrowing bleakness, quiet stillness to jealous anger, and you might approach as fine a performance as this. The Adagio brought moments of transfiguration – Katya Kabanova sprang to mind – but anger and sadness remained. In keeping with the highly dramatic framework, I could imagine the third movement as if it were the opening of a new act in a Janáček opera: the forlorn heroine glimpsed at home, reflecting upon her predicament, trying to reach some form of resolution, its implications becoming clear, likewise the urgency to act. Fanciful? Doubtless, but indicative of the dramatic commitment at work here. Final resolution did not prove easy in the final movement, nor should it have done. It looked back but equally provided something new, crucial to dramatic conclusion. Interruption was as much the thing as the interrupted dance. Somehow, almost miraculously, but in fact testament to the Jerusalem players’ understanding, movement and work proved utterly coherent.


Gavin Plumley said...

Your reading of the Janacek is entirely right... everything the composer wrote outside the theatre seems proto-dramatic. It's impossible not to feel the music reaching out beyond its abstraction.

JB said...

I think this view is only correct for the works of his later years i.e. after 1916, which admittedly includes the best of Janacek's output.